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By John Swartz
John Winchester, co-founder of Orillia for Democracy and the architect and one of the organizers of Monday night’s rally in opposition to the provincial government’s determination to develop land removed from Greenbelt protection, estimated about 100 people showed up to the 7 p.m. event.
“Outstanding. Outstanding speeches, visions, the weather, signs and let’s hope that people were listening,” Winchester said at the conclusion of the hour-long rally.
The protest resulted from the release of auditor general Bonnie Lysyk’s Special Report on Changes to the Greenbelt. A number of speakers, Jeff Monague (former Chief Beausoleil First Nation) was scheduled, but could not attend because of a death in his family and was represented by his cousin, Vicky Monague. The others are Madeleine Fournier (Stop Sprawl Orillia), Aaron Cayden Hiltz (past candidate Simcoe North Liberal Party), Elizabeth Van Houtte (past candidate Simcoe North NDP), Jacob Kearey-Moreland (co-founder, Orillia for Democracy) and Margaret Prophet (executive director, Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition) had a chance to voice concerns and provide information media has not amplified.
Hiltz told the crowd it was time to take the gloves off and explained afterward what he thought that should be.
“It’s the same thing that we’re seeing here today. Gathering, making sure your voice is heard and en sure that these folks can hear you. Ensuring the Ford Government can hear us. So if that means making a bunch of noise, saying things that might upset them that’s what it takes,” Hiltz said.
Madeline Fournier created and spearhead a group to oppose the City of Orillia boundary expansion plan. That move is about acquiring housing land from the neighbouring townships of Severn and Oro-Medonte, and it it’s about gaining employment land too. Asked how that relates to the provincial government’s Greenbelt plan she said:
“Stop Sprawl Orillia is a campaign to prevent the boundary expansion from happening in Orillia, but that boundary expansion was mandated by Doug Ford’s government under the Greater Golden Horseshoe / Places to Grow Act. We wouldn’t have to pursue a boundary expansion if he was making us unnecessarily expand our boundary into farmland. The methodology is based on market demand, which he claims is single family homes. Well, market demand is single family homes because that’s all that’s being built. I’m sure if we had affordable alternatives, then people would happily move into them.”
Margaret Prophet is the executive director of Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, a group she helped organize and lead for 8 years. She has been the voice for more that 1,000 members keeping local governments on side regarding environment issues.
“Our MPPs in Simcoe County are responsible for this. Just because it’s not happening here now doesn’t mean not going to be happening here ever,” Prophet said.
“What happened was they signed in December 2022. There was 30 MPPs; that’s all of cabinet. That would include three Simcoe County (MPPs). They signed it; we want to know what did they know? What kind of questions did they ask? Why did they support these (Greenbelt) take outs? Now we’re seeing a domino effect of corruption and biased process. These 30 MPPs in cabinet are all implicated, including three in Simcoe County.”
Jacob Kearey-Moreland has for years been involved in local activism. He spearheaded the creation of Orillia’s Community Gardens and has run for office. He thinks people have to apply some pressure to the government if anything is going to change.
“Call Jill Dunlop. If you want to be heard by the government Jill Dunlop is our representative, so you’ve got to call her, you’ve got to find her, you’ve got to tell her directly how you feel. That’s one way. The other way is to talk to people around you. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Don’t just criticize what’s happening, let’s imagine an alternative and let’s put concrete steps down to make those happen,” Kearey-Moreland said. It would seem voting is also a component; many people don’t bother to vote, but have opinions.
“Voting is one step on the ladder of engagement and it is probably one of the lowest rungs on the ladder. People don’t get a vote for another three years,”
Retired doctor John Jefferies was in the crowd, which also included a great number of people from his generation mixed in with younger adults and some children. He found out about the rally and drove back to Orillia from his cottage to be present.
“I guess what’s so astonishing is it seems like it’s so blatantly corrupt and so obvious what has happened and to hear the premier say, “I don’t have any developer friends. And to know that on another occasion, that stag and doe situation, he said, ‘Oh, I have friends of all stripes. Yes I did have some of these developers at my table,”” Jefferies said. He thinks the party attitude is they’ll get through this hiccup.
“The machinery of the Conservative Party says – we’ve got to manage this. The opposition is split between the NDP and Liberals and we think we can weather this, it’s just a case of management and we think we can survive this. It seem so egregious and I think the courts can take the necessary information and if it’s challenged in court it will delay it because in fact it will be a failed policy and the needed housing will not get built, so it will be a boondoggle in the end.”
Ontario’s integrity commissioner, J. David Wake, is looking into a request from the premier to investigate whether housing minister Steve Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, acted improperly and influenced the process. The premier also asked the OPP to investigate, and numerous other people have filed complaints, but the OPP has not decided if there is enough evidence to open a full racketeering investigation, saying they need someone with direct knowledge of what happened to come forward to take it further. Some GTA environment groups are considering taking legal action.
Pickering residents also organized a protest at Ontario finance minister Peter Bethlenfalvy’s office on Monday.
A hat was passed to help cover the costs for the rally, and Winchester told the crowd any money collected beyond those costs would be divided between two local charities. Tuesday the Sharing Place Food Bank received a cheque for $240.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)